I called a fellow physician in Tuba City about a month ago to get his guidance. I had a patient coming down off a several week binge who was open to inpatient rehab. Despite my being here 28 plus years I wanted to confirm with my friend who has been working on the rez 30 years that despite there being high rates of drug and alcohol use on the reservation there’s still no treatment facilities. I was hoping the resources had appeared miraculously under my radar. Sadly, he confirmed that we’ve got new jails in Tuba City and Kayenta to temporarily detain people for public intoxication but no rehabilitation centers. Yet, the Navajo nation and indigenous people in general have one of the highest suicide rates in the country which often occurs under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a problem that’s been well documented.
“The game of life is hard to play.
I’m going to lose it anyway.
The losing card I’ll someday lay.
So this is all I have to say…
That suicide is painless.
It brings on many changes.
And I can take or leave it if I please.”
MASH theme song by Johnny Mandel
Case in point. I’ve know Josie since shortly after I arrived in 1987. I’ve taken care of her in her pregnancies, am watching her kids grow up and was with her on that hot, windy day in June of 1994 when she walked down the aisle for the first time, her father at her side while her sister secured her dress.
When I went to her in 2011 with the idea of photographing her infant daughter JC for a campaign to raise awareness on CO2 emissions she and her husband Hank were there for me.
Her oldest son Kordell attended high school in Tuba City. He competed against my son Jamaal who attended school in Page. Josie and I talked often about how our boys were doing. She told me that Kordell enjoyed competing against Jamaal who made him play harder, play his best.
Talking with Josie now a year after Kordell shot himself at age 16 it sounds like she could see it coming. Despite their best efforts Kordell didn’t heed his parents interventions. Though the reservation is dry, drugs and alcohol are plentiful. Now it’s Josie’s mission to raise awareness regarding drug and alcohol use while trying to get the tribe to build a rehabilitation center. She realizes the problem is multifaceted – that the education system needs a robust overhaul, after school programs need to be created and sustained, youth centers are needed and meaningful work is missing on the reservation where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%. Despite the odds she feels it’s what she’s being called to do. She doesn’t want Kordell’s death to be in vain though 2 other suicides occurred in the family shortly after Kordell’s. Yet she remains positive.
There’s work to be done; the struggle continues. Stay tuned…